Jan Grulich

WebRTC (Chromium): Year end report

Although Wayland screen sharing is still not yet enabled by default in Chromium, which is what I hoped to achieve this year, I think I can say we are almost there and you can expect it sooner than later. Let’s summarize what we have accomplished this year to make this change happen:

Stream restoration support

You probably remember that you had to go through two portal (xdg-desktop-portal) dialogs all the time you wanted to share your screen. We had first portal dialog to have your selected screen visible in Chromium preview dialog and yet another portal dialog to make your screen shared with the web page itself. This was quite annoying as users had to make the same selection twice. Thanks to a new addition into portal API I was able to implement stream restoration support in WebRTC to bypass the second portal dialog and have your selection instantly shared with the web page itself once you confirm it in the Chromium dialog. This was released in Chromium 105.

Tests for PipeWire (streaming) code

This is not a feature that is visible to users, but it makes an important part of the whole process. It was a long effort to make this happen as it’s something that is not trivial to test and needs some dependencies for the tests itself to run. As a first step we had to bring PipeWire and some of its dependencies into the infrastructure. As easy as it sounds, in order to add a new dependency there you have to add it in form of a CIPD (Chrome Infrastructure Package Deployment) package. This means you write recipes with information how to build and get your package. This all on a CentOS 7 based distribution where you have to work with older libraries or missing libraries and tools (e.g. Meson). This makes your packages later available in third_party directory that is available to both Chromium and WebRTC. Next step was to write the tests itself. The only way how I could test our PipeWire code, code that is all about receiving frames over PipeWire stream, was to write another “testing” stream that will be sending us frames with parameters where we will know what to expect and can verify we received what we were supposed to receive. For the tests itself I used GTest framework which is very well documented and quite comprehensive. Sadly, we were still just in the middle of the process and one would hope that it cannot get more complicated, but the opposite is true. There is a whole runtime setup we need for our tests to run. We need PipeWire and PipeWire session manager to run, otherwise we would never activate and connect our streams. To create the setup I had to write a Python wrapper script that sets all environment variables for PipeWire to find everything in the third_party directory (plugins, libspa, etc.) and run both PipeWire and PipeWire session manager in order to run our test. As a last step, because we had a script that runs the test, we had to create a mapping in the infrastructure making the script itself a launcher of our test + limit this only to x86_64 architecture as that’s the only one where we have PipeWire available as CIPD package.

Here are upstream changes that implement all above mentioned:

UX improvements in Chromium preview dialog

All these improvements were made by Alexander Cooper, Alex is Google engineer working on screen sharing stack in Chromium and WebRTC. I have been intensively working with Alex for the past year and he is my go to person when it comes to code reviews or anything related to screen sharing in Chromium. Alex made a great set of UX improvements in their preview dialog. My original implementation always automatically invoked portal dialog when screen sharing was initiated. This led into one dialog overlaping the other. In most recent Chromium version (I think starting with 107) users will be presented with Chromium preview dialog first asking to share a web tab and only once they pick to share a screen they will get presented with the portal dialog. You can also now re-request the portal dialog in case you pick a wrong screen to share.

Web Engines Hackfest in A Coruña

I travelled to A Coruña in May to attend the Web Engines hackfest and meet Alex Cooper from Google there. This was a perfect opportunity for us to meet in person and I’m really grateful for that. Even though that for me it was a bit stepping outside of my comfort zone as I went somewhere where I didn’t know anyone (besides Alex), but as I later found out, all the people there were super friendly and I’m happy that I met some new faces. We had very productive conversations with Alex and having enough time to talk in person was beneficial for both sides as we could explain to each other technical details of our backgrounds and talk about future plans and current issues.

Firefox and WebRTC rebase

Firefox upstream has been behind with our WebRTC changes for more than ~2 years. This has changed recently with Firefox 106, where they finally rebased their WebRTC version to M103 (Chromium 103). I also provided them list of additional backports they should pick up in order to have fixes for some crashes and issues we have fixed since then. Sadly, as I later found out, even though they did the rebase and all the backports, the new codebase (for screen sharing) is not in use and instead they still keep the old code and use it instead. This is because they don’t have all the dependencies in place and it’s been blocked on this issue since then, hopefully it will get figured out soon and also Firefox users can benefit from all the improvements we did over the past two years. This is not an issue for Fedora users where I created a patch for our Firefox package that enables the new code and use it instead.

Plans for the future

  • Extend PipeWire code test coverage. Currently we test only the essential part of the code, but I would like to further extend the tests with tests for all kinds of metadata we can use (damage regions, crops, mouse cursor etc.)
  • Use portal dialog as the default one. This has some requirements that need to be fulfilled before Chromium can rely on it. We need to show screen/window previous, as currently it can easily happen you pick a wrong screen (especially when you have two identical monitors) and we need a way how to invoke Chromium dialog so users can share a web tab.
  • Fix bugs. I’m currently not aware of any issue and we already fixed a bunch of them this year as people use it more often, but I expect more issues to appear as Wayland becomes more and more dominant and we finally make it enabled by default.

DMA-BUF support in WebRTC

It will be almost three years since we landed initial support for screensharing on Wayland with the use of PipeWire in the WebRTC project. This enabled screensharing support in both major Linux browsers. Last year I implemented support for window sharing, added support for PipeWire 0.3 and added support for DMA-BUF and MemFD buffer types. Problem was, as it turned out, the DMA-BUF support was not implemented in a correct way.

The original implementation was using mmap() to get the buffer content. This worked correctly for current Intel GPUs, but was terrifically slow on e.g. AMD GPUs. Proper solution is to use OpenGL context to get the content from buffer. However, there were many implementations using mmap() already, including WebRTC and we needed a way how to properly communicate between the server and the client that when the client advertises DMA-BUF support, it means it doesn’t use mmap() and goes through OpenGL context instead.

Here are some issues if you want to read about the details:

This all resulted into a completely different way how the communication between the consumer and the producer should happen in order to use DMA buffers for way faster and smoother screensharing support. Both sides are now required to query the list of all supported modifiers and add this as a new stream parameter, including flags that the modifiers are mandatory parameter, rest of stream parameters are kept as before so we can keep using other types in case DMA-BUFs are not supported by the producer. Once both sides matches their expectations, we can query whether the stream includes modifiers, based on that we know we can use DMA buffers, which we now properly open using OpenGL context, while we kept mmap() for MemFd buffer types as fallback. This will result into faster screensharing support in your web browsers.

Last but not least, I made screensharing even faster, regardless of buffer type we use. Originally when we received buffer from PipeWire, we copied it to a local variable so we can apply cropping and adjust the position and only after that we copied this adjusted content into a DesktopFrame, which each DesktopCapturer (a class representing screensharing implementation) is supposed to return and let it be displayed by the browser. That means we performed two copy operations for each frame. I improved this implementation and now we copy the PW buffer content directly to a desktop frame which we can return directly so one copy operation less than before. I didn’t do some exact measures, but simply running htop and comparing usage of top 5 processes when sharing a 4k screen I got:

  • Original result: 66%, 64%, 26% 23%, 10%
  • Updated result: 41%, 39%, 19%, 17%, 12%

I also have some other improvements on my TODO list, all of them should bring some additional optimizations and improvements. I will keep you informed once I have news to share with you.

Both changes have been merged into WebRTC, that means it should be in Chrome/Chromium 96 (released during November 2021).

WebRTC/Chromium updates in 2020

In 2019, I started with my first contribution to WebRTC. This was all about screen sharing support on Linux Wayland sessions, using xdg-desktop-portal and PipeWire. Back then, it was quite simple, we only had PipeWire 0.2 and all portal backends supported only screen sharing (no window sharing). While this was relatively easy, it was not ideal as each screen sharing request involved two portal dialogs to get the screen content on the web page itself. For me it was a big success, because I made quite a significant contribution to such a big project, which is used by many people, and a project which is used by all modern web browsers.

At the beginning of 2020, the year everyone would like to erase from their memories, we got PipeWire 0.3 (with slightly different API) and later with xdg-desktop-portal-gtk and xdg-desktop-portal-kde (later this year) people were finally able to share application windows. Support for all of this was lacking in WebRTC, because back then those were not available. I wanted to tackle all issues at once, bring support for window sharing and get rid of the “dialog hell” with portals, which was even worse with the new window sharing capabilities in portal backends.

This is what the situation looks like. With each request to share a screen, you got the preview dialog from Chromium. This dialog consists from three pages. One is for screen sharing making one portal request, second one is for window sharing, which is another portal request, and the last one is just to allow you to share a web page you have opened. You had to confirm both portal dialogs, then confirm the Chromium dialog and finally you got one more portal dialog (ouch) to get the screen content on the web page itself.

I had a solution. I made all portal calls identified with an ID and shared this ID (portal call) in Chromium between both pages in the Chromium preview dialog and with the request made for the web page itself. With this solution we only had ONE portal dialog. This was a perfect solution (at least seemed to be). I started working on this at the beginning of this year, we exchanged many emails with people from Chromium UX team, because I wanted to do also some minor UI changes in the preview dialog. Unfortunately, those were rejected for consistency with all platforms. It was not a big deal and I submitted my changes for review, keeping UI as it was, just adding all necessary bits into Chromium and WebRTC to make it all work.

I wish to say things went smoothly since then, but the opposite is true. It took a while to get everything reviewed, but this is probably no surprise with this year being weird and many people working from home with less than ideal conditions. Anyway, few months passed away, I ended up rewriting my changes many times, not even counting hours I spent on it. This all resulted into me being obsessed with this change, it mattered to me so much to get it merged. I was constantly thinking about how to make it better, I was many times fixing issues in the evening (as reviewers were mostly US based), instead spending time with my family. It would be even better to waste my time with my beloved Playstation. This had really negative impact on my mental health and I realized this has to stop and I simply gave up, because I couldn’t continue this way and needed a break. I abandoned both changes (WebRTC and Chromium) and decided to just pick changes I will be able to successfuly upstream. I probably made my change too ambitious and complicated or maybe it’s just Chromium not being ready for this kind of change, because some tweaks were specific for my use-case. It’s also hard to say I wish upstream devs had helped me more, because there is so much to understand around Wayland, portals and PipeWire and way how it all works together.

Anyway, with a new start, without pressure after gaving up on the change, I picked the most important changes and submitted them separately. I was surprised now how smoothly this went and how fast those changes were upstreamed. Simply those changes were simple, understandable and easy to review. I didn’t gave up on fixing the “dialog hell” completely, I have some other ideas, but next time I will try to submit them step by step and will keep some distance and my free time.

And what are the changes you can expect in upcoming Chromium release in 2021?

Support for PipeWire 0.3

You can now build Chromium/WebRTC with both PipeWire 0.2 and Pipewire 0.3. There is a new “rtc_pipewire_version” option you can pass to your build configs.

Window sharing support

There is probably no description needed. You will be able to share application windows in case you don’t want to share whole screen.

Suppport for DmaBuf and MemFd buffer types

This should allow faster transfer of your screen content from your Wayland compositor, through PipeWire to your browser.

Less portal dialogs involved

If you look back into the screenshot I posted above, you can see there are two portal dialogs opened just for the Chromium preview dialog. I at least tried to reduce this to just one portal dialog. This was done by removing the page for window sharing, because the screen share request will already handle both screen and windows.

I think you can expect above mentioned changes in Chromium 89 and I hope you will at least appreciate some of these improvements even though I didn’t deliver everything I wanted to. Also, thanks to Martin Stránský from our Firefox team, you can expect all these changes to be also part of Firefox.

Happy holidays and see you in a better year.

Screen sharing support in WebRTC for Wayland sessions

Last time I wrote about possibility to share a screen of Plasma wayland session, using xdg-desktop-portal and our xdg-desktop-portal-kde backend implementation. Problem was that during that time, there was no application which would implement support for this, leaving my previous effort useless so far. Luckily, this should change pretty soon. I, together with my Red Hat collegues Tomáš Popela and Eike Rathke, have been working for past few weeks on bringing support for screen sharing on Wayland to web browsers. All modern browsers use WebRTC for all audio-video communication, including screen sharing, meaning that in a perfect world, just one implementation would be needed, which is not that exactly this case. Let’s go a bit into the details first.

Each system (Windows, Mac and X11) in WebRTC reimplements an abstract class called DesktopCapturer, which defines API used by applications to support screen sharing. For our wayland support, we started with a new implementation using Pipewire as the core technology used for screen content delivery and for the communication part, to request which screen to share and to obtain Pipewire stream information, we use xdg-desktop-portal, providing simple API to do so. Advantage of using xdg-desktop-portal is that it will work also in sandbox (Flatpak and Snap) and that there is support in Plasma (using xdg-desktop-portal-kde backend) and support for Gnome (using xdg-desktop-portal-gtk backend), both using same API. Using our desktop capturer implementation, WebRTC starts to communicate with xdg-desktop-portal, we set up a session associated with our request, we tell xdg-desktop-portal that we have interest in screen sharing so xdg-desktop-portals asks your backend implementation to provide a dialog to select a screen to share and once this is settled, we request to start screen sharing and backend implementation will set up Pipewire stream, sending us back file descriptor of a Pipewire remote which we can open and connect to it. Once we are connected, we finally start receiving buffers from Pipewire with screen data and providing them to applications. This so far sounds simple and that the work is basically done, but this is unfortunately not an ideal world.

We found out that e.g. Firefox uses some older copy of WebRTC, so while working on WebRTC trunk, to have our work ready for upstream, we had to modify slightly our changes for Firefox older copy in order to be able to test our changes. There is also one thing we haven’t figured out yet, the thing is that Firefox has its own dialog to select a screen (for other capturer implementations) and we were not able to avoid displaying it when our capturer is used. Another thing is Chromium, which seems to be using WebRTC in a different way when compared to Firefox as Chromium is using plugins so this is also something we have to figure out. There are probably still plenty of other things to do before all of this can be upstream, but we have made great progress on this so far. We even had couple of Bluejeans calls where both sides could share their screens, one running Gnome Wayland session and me running Plasma Wayland session.

And for those who like adventures, I have set up a Fedora COPR repository (currently building), with Firefox containing our changes so you can test it yourself, we will need testers soon or later anyway. You just need to make sure that Pipewire is running, otherwise this won’t work, portals (both xdg-desktop-portal and backend implementation) should be started automatically.

Screenshot of Firefox in action:

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